A Collective Refugee Memoir
Kao Kalia Yang
Available in August 2020
Back in the 1980s, Minnesota’s University Avenue was barely clinging to life. Lined with church thrift stores, boarded windows, and prostitutes leaning against streetlights, the sidewalks were thick with bloody, discarded needles. Today, University Avenue is a bustling commercial center, a hub of Halal butchers, Mexican carnicerias, grocery stores selling delicacies to new arrivals from Ethiopia and Bosnia, Iraq and China. A dying strip of America has been revived by the stateless. As the country’s doors are closing and nativism is on the rise, Kao Kalia Yang—herself a refugee from Laos—set out to tell the stories of the refugees to whom University Avenue is now home. Here are people who have summoned the energy and determination to make a new life even as they carry an extraordinary burden of hardship, loss, and emotional damage: Irina, an ex-Soviet, who still hoards magical American fruit—bananas!—under her bed; the Thai brothers of Vinai and their business selling purified water to gullible immigrants; the Kareni boys, who have brought Minnesota to basketball glory. In Yang’s exquisite, poetic, and necessary telling, the voices of refugees from all over the world restore humanity to America’s strangers and redeem its long history of welcome.
Kao Kalia Yang is the author of The Song Poet, which received the 2017 Minnesota Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Chautauqua Prize, and the PEN USA Literary Award. Her book The Latehomecomer also received the Minnesota Book Award. Yang, a regular contributor to NPR’s On Belief, lives in Minneapolis.